Renewable energy: where to start   

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Wind and solar get the renewable headlines, but what about biomass and hydro?

Post by Dan Kolbet

Renewable Energy
At Avista we like to say that we were founded on renewable hydroelectricity. We’re proud of it. Even today the biggest resource percentage of generated or purchased power comes from hydroelectricity. Yet nationally, renewable energy tends to be framed around wind, solar and sometimes biomass and hydro. Where does Avista, biomass, hydroelectricity and your power fit in the renewable discussion?

Let’s start with hydroelectricity. Unlike much of the country, the Northwest benefits from having abundant hydroelectric resources. It’s good for all of us, because it’s in our backyard. It’s pretty tough to get a new hydroelectric project started in the United States, so the growth in this area generally comes from modernizing generation to make it more efficient. For the past decade or more we’ve been doing just that on the Clark Fork River at our Noxon Rapids and Cabinet Gorge dams.

Some of our hydroelectric dams on the Spokane River are more than 100 years old, and since we need to keep those dams running responsibly and reliably, we’re always looking for ways to improve them. This year, we’re looking at upgrading parts of our Post Falls and Little Falls hydroelectric facilities. There’s no doubt about it, hydroelectricity is an important renewable resource.

Biomass is another example of renewable energy that doesn’t get much of the spotlight. Avista’s Kettle Falls biomass plant was the first electric generating station of its kind constructed within the United States for the sole purpose of producing electricity from wood waste. It opened in October of 1983 – roughly 29 year ago. That’s a long history of renewable generation. Beginning in 2016 Washington will officially recognize its operations as a renewable resource for the purposes of meeting Washington state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS).

Now for the hip, cool kids – wind and solar.

Solar panels
A small solar array is affixed to the top of our
corporate headquarters today. It helps offset the
power we use to charge the
Avista Sun Car.
Let’s talk solar first. Sure, the sun is free, but equipment involved in generating and delivering that power to the grid isn’t free - not by a long shot. In our area, given our other resources (like hydro), utility scale solar power isn’t in the cards, at least not today. We’re always on the lookout for proven resources, so that may change in the future, in fact a small solar array is affixed to the top of our corporate headquarters today. It helps offset the power we use to charge the Avista Sun Car.

Last, but certainly not least in this renewable roundup, is wind. Today Avista doesn’t generate any of its own power via wind, yet we’ve had a long-standing contract to buy wind power from the Stateline Wind Project on the Washington/Oregon border. Soon a new wind farm called Palouse Wind will come online near the town of Oakesdale and State Route 195 on the hills surrounding Naff Ridge. The project is being developed by First Wind, but Avista has secured the rights to its electrical output for next 30 years. Avista has been thinking about how to incorporate wind into our generation mix for several years, so it’s certainly on our minds.

As you can see, from hydro to biomass, and wind to (a little) solar, we’re all over this renewable thing.

For another look at Avista’s power generation and planning for the future, check out our Electric Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). The IRP analyzes and outlines a strategy to meet projected demand and renewable portfolio standards through energy efficiency and a careful mix of qualifying renewable and traditional energy resources

Renewable energy and you
Avista launched a Buck-A-Block voluntary rate program for customers in 2002. The program is still going strong today with thousands of megawatt hours of emission-free wind being purchased annually. Nearly 4,000 customers participate. When you sign up for Buck-A-Block, you make a voluntary payment above and beyond your normal rates. Avista makes no profit from that additional money, which goes to support the renewable energy many of our customers prefer by purchasing environmental offsets from renewable energy generation.
 
Posted by  System Account  on  4/13/2012
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